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of foliage, fruits, and flowers, which clothes the world with unspeakable splendors—as the divine grace and redolence of the Rose are wrought out in the invisible realm of Beauty—so the secret Brotherhood has labored“ in the secret Pavilion," to throw over the waste and barren places of human life the beautiful flowers of Friendship and Love, and the fragrance of a heavenly virtue.
SECRET POLITICAL ORDERS.
BESIDES the “ JACOBINS” of the past age, and others of a similar character, there have been, and are now some, which, from their resemblance to Freemasonry, deserve a brief notice.
THE VEHM GERICHTE OF THE GERMAN EMPIRE. The laws and institutions of society are always necessarily imperfect, and never meet entirely all the wants of those who live under them. Established for the protection of the weak, against the encroachments of the strong, and for the subjugation of force to the sentiments of justice and equity, they sometimes, even in the most favored times, fail to accomplish all they propose, while in rude and turbulent ages in times of anarchy and violence—their influence is scarcely felt. Such was the condition of Europe in the thirteenth century.
The law of might everywhere prevailed. The old barons despised all law and justice, looked on the people with contempt, and impiously trampled all the sacred rights of humanity beneath their feet. Justice everywhere was outraged, the homes of the poor were desolated, and violence and crime filled every land. So powerful became those numerous oppressors, the royal authority could not reach them, and no law could compel them to appear at the tribunal of justice to answer for their misdeeds. In such circumstances, the oppressed have no resource, but to oppose a secret force to the open acts of violence.
The Westphalian Brotherhood,* or the Vehm Gerichte, originated in these circumstances : It was established in 1267, and soon extended over the entire of Germany. It was strictly an institution of the people. Its objects were to protect the weak, to succor oppressed innocence and to panish crime, when the laws, either by their imperfection, or injustice, or inefficiency, failed to do so. To secure these objects, it received into its secret communion jailers, executioners, and all such as were connected with the administration of the laws. In every city and town, around every prison, and in the castles of every noble, it had its emissaries; and there was no place, however high or well guarded, secure from its intrusion. It contained over a hundred thousand members, all of them bound by the most solemn obligations to the strictest secrecy.
Its mode of operation was as follows: When a crime was committed, which the laws could not, or would not punish, the offender was summoned in the name of the Emperor ---for in his name the society always acted—to appear before the secret tribunal at some place appointed, and offer his defense. Should he fail to appear, he was declared guilty by default, and punished accordingly. When a citizen was unjustly accused, and aristocratic vice and injustice seemed on the point of triumphing over humble virtue, the mystic Brotherhood would suddenly appear, and the victim and accuser would exchange places on the scaffold. Sometimes, indeed, the trial was public—in the market-place, or an open field — although the judges and officers were disguised.
The influence of this dread fraternity was highly beneficial. It restrained the power of the feudal barons, and opposed to their lawless encroachments an irresistible might. It was a powerful protector of
* A degree of romance has been thrown around this institution by Scott, who has given a long, and, for the most part, correct description of its modus operandi, in his “Maid of the Mist.”